Thursday, 16 August 2012

Flowers pay for Kenyan farmer who abandoned tea farming

By Ejidiah Wangui

Richard Wageni
When Richard Wageni abandoned tea farming after 15 years and ventured into flower farming, many of his neighbors and friends ridiculed him.

They discouraged him from turning his farm into a flower farm, but he was determined.  He had been a tea farmer for many years, but as he puts it, he had nothing to celebrate about the business. Wageni says he thought tea was the only crop that could earn him a decent income. However this proved otherwise six years ago when a field officer from a flower exporting company visited Kihuri village in Nyeri County with bags full of goodies for farmers. The officer first promised to market flowers for the farmers who were ready to accept his plan and Wageni didn't think twice about the opportunity.

Now, those who laughed and ridiculed him are slowly buying his idea. He says most farmers neighboring his farm are slowly uprooting tea for flowers, which earn him much higher compared with what he earned from tea. "I have never regretted, not even a single day why I ventured into flower farming, the flowers mature quickly and there is ready market, what more would I want?" a happy Wageni says.

Wageni was among the first group of farmers who were trained on flower farming by the company at the foot of Aberdares, but many gave up and abandoned the project since they had high expectations. "Most of my colleagues whom we started with gave up since they expected instant profit, I didn't give up and my patience is now paying," says Wageni.

Today, Wageni's farm is a sight to be held not to forget that he laughs all the way to the bank as his income has also gone up. "I cannot compare my income now and what I used to earn when I was only growing tea, I will forever remain grateful for the officer who opened my eyes," he adds. "In a month, I can make 50,000 shillings from a half acre piece of land but if it was tea, such money would take an year to get. There was a time I made a cool over 100,000 shillings in two months after deducting all the expenses. If it was tea, I would take more than two years. My friends in the tea industry who initially laughed at me did not believe it," says Wageni.He says he earns more during the months of January to June.He adds that farmers should not only major in tea and coffee,saying the mindset that only the two crops can earn some one money has failed many Kenyans.He started with half an acre piece of land, but has now uprooted more tea to expand the flower farm.

Peter Maigwa, a farmer who followed Wageni's footstepshas not been disappointed either.He says he was encouraged by Wageni's success and the fact that the company which introduced the idea to them does the marketing for them."Our work is to grow the flowers, but the marketing is done for us, more farmers are slowly abandoning tea and coffee which are the major cash crops especially here in Nyeri," he adds.The company, Wilmar Agro Limited, has been encouraging farmers to explore and venture into other crops. The firm has been providing advice while availing seeds and fertilizers to farmers who accept to venture into flower farming.

Wageni grows Saundasea which he says matures fast. According to Kenya Flower Council, Kenya is the largest supplier of cut flowers to the European Union. In Africa, it is one of the most prominent fresh flower exporting countries. Floriculture is the most developed sector and accounts for about 40 percent of all horticultural exports.Flower farming is dominant around Lake Naivasha and in Kinangop, Nakuru, Limuru, Athi River, Thika, Kiambu and Eldoret, but regions like Nyeri are slowly warming up to flower farming. The cut flower industry provides direct employment to about 60, 000 Kenyans with a further 70,000 employed in related industries.

Kenya has seen phenomenal growth in exports of cut flowers, withstanding competition from Colombia, Ecuador, Israel, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Uganda. The flower industry is expanding, with roses dominating the export market. The major flower varieties grown and exported from Kenya are roses, carnations, statice, cut foliage, carthhamus, solidaster/ solidago, cluysanthemtuns, arabicum, rudbeckia, gypsophilia, lilies, molucella, erynngium and tuberoses. The main export season is between October and May.  Some cut flowers are sold locally, mainly in Nairobi and Mombasa, by street vendors and at floriculture shops in high/ medium class shopping centers.The main markets for cut flowers is the European Union, particularly Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland and France. (Xinhua)

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